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Delaware v Prouse Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the

White, J. | Group 2 United States Constitution."

Topic: “Stop and frisk” automobile roadblocks, We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict
and “other less intrusive searches” between this decision, which is in accord with
decisions in five other jurisdictions, and the
Facts contrary determination in six jurisdictions that
the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the
November 30, 1976 7:30PM  a New Castle kind of automobile stop that occurred here.
County, Del., patrolman in a police cruiser
stopped the automobile occupied by respondent. Issue W/N it is an unreasonable seizure under
the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments YES
The patrolman smelled marihuana smoke as he
was walking toward the stopped vehicle, and he Held
seized marihuana in plain view on the car floor.
On jurisdiction
Respondent was subsequently indicted for Because the Delaware Supreme Court held that
illegal possession of a controlled substance. the stop at issue not only violated the Federal
Constitution but also was impermissible under
At a hearing on respondent's motion to suppress Art. I, § 6, of the Delaware Constitution, it is
the marihuana seized as a result of the stop, the urged that the judgment below was based on an
patrolman testified that, prior to stopping the independent and adequate state ground, and
vehicle, he had observed neither traffic or that we therefore have no jurisdiction in this
equipment violations nor any suspicious activity, case. Based on our reading of the opinion,
and that he made the stop only in order to check however, we are satisfied that, even if the State
the driver's license and registration. Constitution would have provided an adequate
basis for the judgment, the Delaware Supreme
Court did not intend to rest its decision
The patrolman was not acting pursuant to any
independently on the State Constitution, and
standards, guidelines, or procedures pertaining
that we have jurisdiction of this case.
to document spot checks, promulgated by either
his department or the State Attorney General.
Legality of investigative stops
Characterizing the stop as "routine," the
patrolman explained, "I saw the car in the area The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are
and wasn't answering any complaints, so I implicated in this case because stopping an
decided to pull them off." automobile and detaining its occupants
constitute a "seizure" within the meaning of
those Amendments, even though the purpose of
The trial court granted the motion to suppress,
the stop is limited and the resulting detention
finding the stop and detention to have been
quite brief.
wholly capricious, and therefore violative of the
Fourth Amendment.
The essential purpose of the proscriptions in the
Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard of
The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, noting
"reasonableness" upon the exercise of
first that "[t]he issue of the legal validity of
discretion by government officials, including law
systematic, roadblock-type stops of a number of
enforcement agents, in order "to safeguard the
vehicles for license and vehicle registration
privacy and security of individuals against
check is not now before the Court,"
arbitrary invasions."
Court held: "a random stop of a motorist in the
In this case, the State of Delaware urges that
absence of specific articulable facts which justify
patrol officers be subject to no constraints in
the stop by indicating a reasonable suspicion
deciding which automobiles shall be stopped for
that a violation of the law has occurred is
a license and registration check because the
constitutionally impermissible and violative of the
State's interest in discretionary spot checks as a
means of ensuring the safety of its roadways An individual operating or traveling in an
outweighs the resulting intrusion on the privacy automobile does not lose all reasonable
and security of the persons detained. (even with expectation of privacy simply because the
no probable cause) automobile and its use are subject to
government regulation. Automobile travel is a
The States have a vital interest in ensuring that basic, pervasive, and often necessary mode of
only those qualified to do so are permitted to transportation to and from one's home,
operate motor vehicles, that these vehicles are workplace, and leisure activities.
fit for safe operation, and hence that licensing,
registration, and vehicle inspection requirements Were the individual subject to unfettered
are being observed. governmental intrusion every time he entered an
automobile, the security guaranteed by the
The question remains, however, whether, in Fourth Amendment would be seriously
the service of these important ends, the circumscribed. As Terry v. Ohio recognized,
discretionary spot check is a sufficiently people are not shorn of all Fourth Amendment
productive mechanism to justify the protection when they step from their homes onto
intrusion upon Fourth Amendment interests the public sidewalks. Nor are they shorn of those
which such stops entail. interests when they step from the sidewalks into
their automobiles.
On the record before us, that question must
be answered in the negative. Accordingly, we hold that, except in those
situations in which there is at least articulable
and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is
Given the alternative mechanisms available, we
are unconvinced that the incremental unlicensed or that an automobile is not
registered, or that either the vehicle or an
contribution to highway safety of the random
occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for
spot check justifies the practice under the Fourth
violation of law, stopping an automobile and
Amendment.
detaining the driver in order to check his driver's
license and the registration of the automobile
The foremost method of enforcing traffic and are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
vehicle safety regulations is acting upon
observed violations. Furthermore, drivers
This holding does not preclude the State of
without licenses are presumably the less safe
Delaware or other States from developing
drivers whose propensities may well exhibit
themselves. methods for spot checks that involve less
intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained
exercise of discretion. Questioning of all
In terms of actually discovering unlicensed oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one
drivers or deterring them from driving, the spot possible alternative. We hold only that persons
check does not appear sufficiently productive to in automobiles on public roadways may not, for
qualify as a reasonable law enforcement that reason alone, have their travel and privacy
practice under the Fourth Amendment. interfered with at the unbridled discretion of
police officers. The judgment below is affirmed.
Much the same can be said about the safety
aspects of automobiles, as distinguished from
drivers. Many violations of minimum vehicle
safety requirements are observable, and
something can be done about them by the
observing officer, directly and immediately.

The "grave danger" of abuse of discretion does


not disappear simply because the automobile is
subject to state regulation resulting in numerous
instances of police-citizen contact.